Some of the reasons include ‘learn a new culture,’ ‘maximize your travel experience,’ and ‘widen your social circle.’ These reasons all have one thing in common – they involve meeting and interacting with foreigners. Well, that is the main point of learning a language anyway, isn’t it – so that we can interact with foreigners. This is particularly so with us travelers as we will come into contact with many foreigners when we set foot on foreign soil.
Many of us, therefore, prepare for our trip by buying a language phrasebook or swotting up on online language courses ahead of the trip, in the hope that this will allow us to interact more with the locals while we are there.
Earlier this year we talked about the 7 Awesome Reasons Why You Should Learn A Foreign Language.
But Why Wait?
Recently, I was asked the question: Why don’t we simply meet the locals before we travel? Why wait? For example, if I’m about to travel to Japan next month, why don’t I start interacting with local Japanese right now? That way, I could make some friends, get advice on where to go, and maybe even have someone show me around while I’m there. Heck, they might even offer me a place to stay!
Well, Couchsurfing is one way I could do that, especially if I’m looking for a free place to stay. And indeed, it’s something that many travelers do. But the biggest problem with that is, it’s difficult to interact with locals in non-English-speaking countries if I don’t already speak the local language. Besides, the platform is not very conducive to conversations and getting to know the other person.
The Social Language Chat App
And that’s when I learned about the ‘social language chat app.’
With today’s technology, not only can I easily find foreigners from all over the world, but I could also easily communicate with them, in their language, while knowing absolutely nada of that language. And all that from the palm of my hand. There are a handful of apps which attempt to do that, such as Hello Talk, and Any Talk. However, one app, in particular, stands out heads and shoulders above the others – Hello Pal.
Speaking Mandarin with People In China In Minutes?
Hello Pal makes a pretty bold claim: I can be speaking in a foreign language with someone else halfway around the world, in minutes. I was skeptical at first, but after having played around with the app, I found it to be true! Well, I didn’t miraculously learn Mandarin in a few minutes, of course (that would have been crazy), but I was speaking a lot of Mandarin, as well as other languages like Japanese and French, to real live people around the world, in minutes. And yes, they did understand me, I hasten to add!
How does Hello Pal do that? Well, imagine Whatsapp, Tinder, and Rosetta Stone combined into one, and you will not be far off. At its most basic, Hello Pal is a chat/instant messaging platform. However, you are also able to match yourself with ‘pals’ all around the world according to your preferences, eg., nationality and native language. What makes it so unique are the language tools that are integrated into the platform, which effectively breaks down the language barrier between you and your foreign friend.
What I love the most is the phrasebooks function, which is also what’s missing in the other language chat apps. Once you get the hang of it (tip: watch the tutorial!), you just have to select your language, find a phrase you want to say, like ‘nihao’ (‘hello’ in Chinese), listen to the guide recording, then mimic it and record it, and send the message to your new friend. Here’s the danger though, if you mimic the guide recordings too well, sometimes the other person thinks you are a fluent speaker and converses with you at that level! That’s why my favorite phrases include, “I’m a complete beginner” and “I just started learning”!
Here’s a video tutorial showing how the phrasebook works:
There are phrasebooks in many languages, and each phrasebook contains many phrases to choose from. Often, phrases even come with a literal translation so that you know exactly what you’re saying, word for word. For example, I’ve learned that “ni hao” literally means “you good” in Chinese! That’s very helpful if you want to learn the language instead of just parroting phrases back. However, as there’s still a limit to the number of phrases you get, you won’t be able to find all the phrases you’ll need, and this is one understandable shortcoming of the app.
That’s when you’ll have to rely on the translation tools that are also integrated into the chat system. The good thing is that you can say and translate whatever you want. The bad thing is that you’re at the mercy of machine translations, where your mileage will vary a lot. I found that, like Google Translate and other online translators, the translations work very well with Latin languages like Spanish and French, but not so well with non-Latin ones like Chinese and Japanese.
The Future of Travel Planning
With apps like Hello Pal, I think that over time, meeting and interacting with locals before traveling will become more and more common, like buying a guide book for that country. Traveling no longer needs to be an activity that is done alone if you choose not to, and can be done in a more social way, where language is less and less a barrier to our interconnectedness with other people in the world.
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